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Through the darkness the man moved from tree to tree, working his way toward the large house. The nineteenth-century estate, forty miles south of Hamburg, Germany, spanned one hundred and twelve acres of beautiful rolling forest and farmland and was designed after the Grand Trianon at Versailles in France. It had been commissioned by Heinrich Hagenmiller in 1872 to win further favor with William I of Prussia, the newly crowned German emperor. Portions of it had been sold off over the years as it became too expensive to maintain so much land.
The man walking silently through the woods had already studied hundreds of photographs of the property and its owner. Some of the photos were snapped from satellites orbiting the earth thousands of miles up, but most were taken by the surveillance team that had been in place for the last week.
The assassin had arrived from America only this afternoon and wanted to see with his own eyes what he was up against. Photographs were a good start, but they were no substitute for being there in person. The collar of his black leather jacket was flipped up around his neck to ward off the bite of the cold fall evening. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees since sunset.
For the second time since leaving the cottage, he stopped dead in his tracks and listened. He thought he had heard something behind him. The narrow path he trod was covered with a fresh bed of golden pine needles. It was a cloudy night, and with the thick canopy above, very little light reached the place where he stood. He moved to the path's edge and slowly looked back. Without his night-vision scope, he could see no more than ten feet.
Mitch Rapp had been trying not to use the scope. He wanted to make sure he could find his way down the path without it, but something was telling him he wasn't alone. Rapp extracted a 9-mm Glock automatic from his pocket and quietly screwed a suppresser onto the end of it. Then he grabbed a four-inch tubular pocket scope, flipped the operating switch on, and held it up to his right eye. The path before him was instantly illuminated with a strange green light. Rapp scanned the area, checking not only the path but his flanks. The pocket scope penetrated the dark shadows that his eyes could not. He paid particular attention to the base of the trees that bordered the path. He was looking for the telltale shoe of someone who was seeking to conceal himself.
After five minutes of patiently waiting, Rapp began to wonder if it wasn't a deer or some other creature that had made the noise. After five more minutes, he reluctantly gave in to the conclusion that he had heard an animal of the four-legged variety rather than two-. Rapp put the pocket scope away but decided to keep his gun out. He had not made it to the ripe old age of thirty-two by being careless and sloppy. Like any true professional, he knew when the time was right to take chances and when to cut and run.
Rapp continued down the path for another quarter of a mile. He could see the lights of the house up ahead and decided to go the rest of the way through the underbrush. Silently, he maneuvered through the thickets, bending branches out of his way and ducking under others. As he approached the edge of the forest, he heard the snap of a twig under his foot and quickly moved to his left, placing a tree directly between himself and the house. A kennel of hunting dogs, not more than a hundred yards away, erupted in alarm. Rapp silently swore at himself and remained perfectly still. This was why he needed to check things out on his own. Amazingly, no one had told him that there were dogs. The canines grew louder, their barks turning to howls, and then a door opened. A deep voice yelled in German for the beasts to be quiet. The man repeated himself two more times, and finally the dogs settled.
Rapp slid an eye out from behind the tree and looked at the kennel. The hunting dogs were wired, pacing back and forth. They would be a problem. Not as bad as trained guard dogs, but their senses were still naturally keen. He stood at the edge of the forest listening and watching, taking everything in. He didn't like what he saw. There was a lot of open space between the forest and the house. There were some gardens that he could weave his way through, but it would be hard to stay silent on the paths of crushed rock. The dogs would make approaching from the south very difficult. Surveillance cameras covered the other avenues, and there was twice the open space to traverse. The only good news was that there were no pressure pads, microwave beams, or motion sensors to deal with.
Officially, Mitch Rapp had nothing to do with the U.S. government. Unofficially, he had been working for the CIA since graduating from Syracuse University more than a decade ago. Rapp had been selected to join a highly secretive counterterrorism group known as the Orion Team. The CIA had honed Rapp's raw athleticism and intelligence into a lethal efficiency. The few people he allowed to get close to him knew him as a successful entrepreneur who had started a small computer consulting business that required frequent travel. To keep things legitimate, Rapp often did conduct business while abroad, but not on this trip. He had been sent to kill a man. A man who had already been warned twice.
Rapp studied the area for almost thirty minutes. When he had seen enough, he started back, but not down the path. If someone was in the woods, there was no sense in walking right into a trap. Rapp quietly picked his way through the underbrush for several hundred yards to the south. He stopped three times and checked his compass to make sure he was headed in the right direction. From the intelligence summary, he knew there was another footpath due south of the one he had come in on. Both paths entered the estate from a narrow dirt road and ran roughly parallel to each other.
Rapp almost missed the second footpath. It appeared less frequented than the first one and was overgrown. From there he worked his way back to the curving dirt road. When he reached it, he knelt down and extracted his pocket scope. For several minutes he scanned the road and listened. When he was sure no one else was about, he began walking south.
Rapp had been doing this for almost ten years, and he was ready to get out. In fact, this probably would be his last job. He had met the right woman the previous spring, and it was time to settle down. The CIA did not want to let him go, but that was tough. He had already given enough. Ten years of doing what he did for a living was a lifetime. He was lucky to be getting out in one piece and with a marginally sound mind.
A little more than a mile down the road, Rapp came upon a small cottage. The shades were drawn, and smoke drifted from the chimney. He approached the door, knocked twice, paused for a second, and then knocked three more times. It opened two inches, and an eye appeared. When the man saw that it was Rapp, he opened the door all the way. Mitch stepped into the sparsely furnished room and began to unbutton his leather jacket. The man who had let him in locked the door behind him.
The cottage had knotty pine walls that had been painted white and three-inch plank floorboards that were covered with shiny green paint. Brightly colored oval throw rugs were scattered about the floor, and the furniture was old and solid. The walls were adorned with local folk art and some old black-and-white photographs. Under normal circumstances it would be a great place to spend a cozy fall weekend reading a good book by the fire and taking long walks through the forest.
At the kitchen table a woman sat wearing headphones. On the table in front of her was about a quarter of a million dollars in high-tech surveillance equipment. All of the gear was contained in two beat-up black Samsonite suitcases. If anyone were to stop by the cottage, the cases could be closed and moved off the table in seconds.
Rapp had never met the man and woman before. He knew them only as Tom and Jane Hoffman. They were in their mid-forties, and as far as Rapp could tell, they were married. The Hoffmans had stopped in two countries before arriving in Frankfurt. Their tickets had been purchased under assumed names with matching credit cards and passports provided by their contact. They were also given their standard fee of ten thousand dollars for a week's work, paid up-front in cash. They were told someone would be joining them and, as always, not to ask any questions.
All of their equipment was waiting for them when they arrived at the cottage, and they started right in on the surveillance of the estate and its owner. Several days after arriving at the cottage, they were paid a visit by a man known to them only as the professor. They were given an additional twenty-five thousand dollars and were told they would receive another twenty-five thousand dollars when they completed the mission. He had given them a quick briefing on the man who would be joining them. He did not tell them the man's real name, only that he was extremely competent.
Tom Hoffman poured Rapp a cup of coffee and brought it to him by the roaring fieldstone fireplace. "So, what'd ya think?"
Rapp shrugged his shoulders and looked at Hoffman's face. His complexion was neutral, not flushed like Rapp's from being out in the cold night air. In response to the question, he said, "It's not going to be easy." Rapp had already checked the woman's face and shoes. Neither of these people had been outside. It must have been a deer that he had heard in the woods.
"It rarely is," noted the stocky Hoffman, who took a drink from his own mug once again while trying to get a read on the stranger before him. The six-foot-one muscular man whom he knew only as Carl moved like a big cat‹soft on his feet. There was nothing clumsy about him. His face was tanned and lined from long hours spent outdoors. His jet-black hair was thick and just starting to gray around the temples, and there was a thin scar on his cheek that ran from his ear down to his jaw.
Rapp looked away from Hoffman and into the fire. He knew he was being sized up. Mitch had already done the same with both of them and would continue to do so up until the moment they parted. He looked back into the fire and focused on the plan. He knew the tendency in these situations was to try to come up with something that was truly ingenious -- a plan that would bypass all of the security and get him in and out without being noticed. This was not necessarily a bad path to take if you had enough time to prepare, but as of right now they had about twenty-three hours to draw the whole thing up and pull it off. With that in mind, Rapp had already begun thinking of a strategy.
Turning away from the fire, he asked the woman, "Jane, how many people are invited to this party tomorrow night?"
Rapp ran a hand through his black hair, grabbed the back of his neck, and squeezed. After staring into the fire for a long moment, he announced, "I have an idea."
The first signs of morning were showing in the east. The black sky was turning gray, and patches of fog wafted from ponds as the cool fall air mixed with summer's leftover warmth. The pristine Maryland morning was interrupted by a dull thumping noise in the distance. Two Marines walking patrol on the Jeep road by the west fence instinctively searched for the source of the sound. With M-16s slung over their shoulders, they craned their necks skyward, both knowing what was approaching without having to see it. Within seconds they also knew it wasn't a military bird. The telltale thumping was far too quiet. The white helicopter buzzed in over the trees and headed for the interior of the camp. The Marines followed it for a second and then continued with their patrol, both assuming the civilian bird was delivering one of the president's golf partners.
The Bell JetRanger continued on an easterly heading toward the camp's water tower. Just in front of the tower was a clearing with a cement landing pad. The bird slowed and floated smoothly toward the ground, its struts coming to rest right on the mark. The pilot shut the turbine engine down, and the rotors began to lose momentum. A black Suburban was parked on the nearby road, and several men in dark suits and ties stood by watching as the visitor stepped out of the helicopter.
Dr. Irene Kennedy grabbed her briefcase and headed for the truck. Her shoulder-length brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was wearing a crisp blue shirt. Kennedy clutched the lapels of her tan suit against the cool air. When she reached the Suburban, an army officer extended his hand. "Welcome to Camp David, Dr. Kennedy."
The forty-year-old employee of the Central Intelligence Agency took the officer's hand and said, "Thank you, Colonel."
Kennedy's official role was as director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. Unofficially, she headed up the Orion Team, an organization born in secrecy out of a need to go on the offensive against terrorism. In the early eighties the United States was stung hard by a slew of terrorist attacks, most notably the bombing of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. Despite the millions of dollars and assets allocated to fight terrorism, after the attacks, things only got worse. The decade ended with the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. The Lockerbie disaster moved some of the most powerful individuals in Washington to take drastic measures. They agreed it was time to take the war to the terrorists. The first option of diplomacy wasn't doing the job, and the second option of military force was ill suited to fight an enemy that lived and worked among innocent civilians, so America's leaders were left with only one choice: the third option. Covert action would be taken. Money would be funneled into black operations that would never see the light of day, much less congressional oversight or the scrutiny of the press. A clandestine war would be mounted, and the hunters would become the hunted.
The ride took just a few minutes, and no one spoke. When they arrived at Aspen Lodge, Kennedy got out and walked up the porch steps, past two Secret Service agents, and into the president's quarters. The colonel escorted Kennedy down the hall to the president's study and knocked on the open door frame.
"Mr. President, Dr. Kennedy is here."
President Robert Xavier Hayes sat behind his desk sipping a cup of coffee and reading Friday morning's edition of the Washington Post. A pair of black-rimmed reading spectacles sat perched on the end of his nose, and when Kennedy entered he looked up from the print and over the top of his cheaters. Hayes immediately closed the paper and said, "Thank you, Colonel." He then rose from his chair and walked over to a small circular table where he gestured for Kennedy to sit.
Hayes was dressed for his morning golf match, wearing a pair of khaki pants, a plain blue golf shirt, and a pullover vest. He set his mug down on the table and poured a second cup for Kennedy. After placing it in front of her, he sat and asked, "How is Director Stansfield?"
"He's..." Kennedy grasped to come up with the appropriate word to describe her boss's failing health, "as well as could be expected."
Hayes nodded. Thomas Stansfield was a very private man. He had been with the CIA from its very inception, and it appeared he would be with it to the very end of his own life. The seventy-nine-year-old spymaster had just been diagnosed with cancer, and the doctors were giving him less than six months.
The president turned his attention to the more immediate matter. "How are things proceeding in Germany?"
"On track. Mitch arrived last night and gave me a full report before I left this morning."
When Kennedy had briefed the president on the operation earlier in the week, the one thing Hayes had made crystal-clear was that there would be no green light unless Rapp was involved. The closed meeting between the president and Kennedy was one of many they had had in the last five months, all in an effort to harass, frustrate, destabilize, and, if possible, kill one person. That fortunate individual was Saddam Hussein.
Long before President Hayes had taken office, Saddam was a source of irritation to the West, but more recently he had done something that directly affected the fifty-eight-year-old president of the United States. The previous spring, a group of terrorists had attacked the White House and killed dozens of Secret Service agents and several civilians. In the midst of the attack, President Hayes was evacuated to his underground bunker, where he sat for the next three days, cut off from the rest of his government. The siege was ended, thanks to the bold actions of Mitch Rapp and a few select members of the intelligence, law enforcement, and Special Forces communities.
After the attack the United States was left with two pieces of information that pointed to the Iraqi leader. There was a problem, however, with bringing this information to the United Nations or the international courts. The first piece of evidence was obtained from a foreign intelligence service that was none too eager to have its methods exposed to international scrutiny, and the second was gathered through the use of covert action -- the third option. How that information was extracted would be deemed reprehensible by all but a few.
In short, they had some very reliable information that Saddam had funded the terrorists, but they could never make the facts public because that would expose their own methods. And as President Hayes had already noted to an inner circle of advisors, there was no guarantee the UN would do anything once it was confronted with the facts. After intense debate by President Hayes, Director Stansfield of the CIA, and General Flood, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the three had decided they had little choice but to go after Saddam on a covert level. At its core, that's what this meeting was all about.
President Hayes leaned forward and placed his coffee mug on the table. He was eager to hear Rapp's take on the situation in Germany. Hayes had discovered that where others failed, Rapp had a way of making things happen. "What does Mitch think?"
"He thinks that given the short notice and the security around the target, we would be better off opting for a more direct approach." Kennedy went on to give the president a brief overview of the plan.
When she was finished Hayes sat back and folded his arms across his chest, his expression thoughtful. Kennedy watched him and kept her own expression neutral, just as her boss would do.
Hayes mulled things over for another ten seconds and then said, "What if they did it..." The president stopped because Kennedy was already shaking her head.
"Mitch doesn't respond well to advice given from three thousand miles away."
The president nodded. After the White House incident the previous spring, Hayes had read up on Rapp. It was almost always his way or the highway, and while this could be a concern, one could hardly argue with the man's record of success. He had a history of getting the job done, often when no one else even dared to take it. Hayes suppressed his urge to be an armchair quarterback and instead decided to remind Kennedy of what was at stake.
"Do Mitch and the others know they are on their own?"
"I mean really on their own. If anything goes wrong, we will deny any knowledge of the situation and of who they are. We have to. Our relationship with Germany could not withstand something like this, nor, for that matter, could my presidency."
Kennedy nodded understandingly. "Sir, Mitch is good. He'll have all of his backups in place by this evening, and if things get too tight, he knows not to force it."
The president stared at her for a moment and then nodded. "All right. You have my authority to go ahead with this, but you know where we stand, Irene. If it blows up, we never had this meeting, and we didn't have the five or six meetings before, either. You had no knowledge of these events, and neither did anyone else at the Agency." Hayes shook his head. "I hate to do this to Mitch, but there's no choice. He is way out there working without a net, and if he falls, we can't do a thing to help him."
Copyright © 2000 by Vince Flynn